Nevada County evacuations continue as firefighters battle Jones Fire (VIDEO/PHOTO GALLERY)
Special to the Sierra Sun
As evacuations from the Jones Fire stretched into a second day, many residents forced to flee from the path of the fire still had no idea as of late Tuesday if their homes still stood.
Amy and Chamba Cooke, who live on Tasha Road next to the Woolman School property, were ready to go even before they heard the high-low warning siren at 5:30 a.m. Monday.
“We woke up at 4:30 and smelled smoke,” Amy said. “We got right up.”
Unable to access the internet, the couple decided to start packing.
“We had pretty much everything ready,” Amy said, adding it was mostly a matter of rounding up their cats, adding a few items and getting everything into the car.
Safely out of town, the Cookes have been left to wait and worry.
Amy Cooke said she had tried unsuccessfully throughout the day to get word on her home, getting referred from place to place with no luck.
“There are so many rumors out there,” she said. “There’s just no way to know. … It’s like waiting for a biopsy result. It’s very hard.”
Michael Habig, who evacuated from Nishinam Gulch Road late Monday, said he left with his cats and little else.
“I’m praying that the structure is there,” he said. “I stayed to the very last second.”
Habig said he was in Camptonville Sunday night and rushed home as soon as he heard about the fire, around 8 a.m.
Even his road was under mandatory evacuation, Habig said at the time everything seemed under control and so he stayed.
“About 3 p.m. the wind started spinning, the fire started moving toward me,” he said. “I grabbed everything and vacated. It was two properties away when I left.”
Habig said that other than his cats, he took some photos, adding, “I don’t have one dollar. I wasn’t able to leave with anything I need.”
He gave thanks to family who took him in, and to Incredible Pets in Grass Valley, where employees told him to take what he needed so he could take care of his animals.
“I’m alive, I’m healthy, I’m in good spirits,” Habig said. “This is an opportunity to be more kind and loving to everybody.”
Damage assessment on homes in the burn area had not yet been completed and no information was available, Nevada County Public Information Officer Taylor Wolfe said Tuesday afternoon.
The fire was first reported before 3 a.m. Monday in the South Yuba Canyon, according to the Nevada County Office of Emergency Services. Residents of Jones Bar Road north of Woolman and the connecting roads were the first to be ordered to evacuate by the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, while the area to the south — including downtown Grass Valley — was under an evacuation warning.
More evacuations were ordered mid-afternoon Monday after shifting winds caused a “significant increase” in fire activity, according to Cal Fire spokeswoman Mary Eldridge. The fire burned through the fire retardant lines that had been built around the fire, and firefighters were having a hard time due to a drawdown of resources from many fires in the state, she said. Access to the fire was providing difficult with no road access to the bottom or the sides of the fire.
The fire map stayed stable overnight, with Cal Fire reporting Tuesday morning the blaze at 550 acres and 5% contained, with four residences burned.
But as temperatures rose and winds shifted, new evacuations were ordered north of Highway 49 from Cement Hill Road west to Independence Trail, with a warning issued for the area north of Excelsior Ditch Camp and Wet Hill roads to the South Yuba River Canyon.
A temporary evacuation point was established Monday morning at the Ready Springs Elementary School in Penn Valley, and a second site was added later at Cottage Hill Elementary School. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, 4,103 residents were under mandatory evacuation while another 12,172 residents were under evacuation warnings, Wolfe said.
According to Wolfe, 51 evacuees had been housed in hotel rooms by noon Tuesday. Large animal evacuations were being hosted at the Nevada County Fairgrounds, with a reported 260 animals including pigs, goats and chickens finding shelter there.
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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